As more brands look to target customers on the move, SMS marketing is becoming an increasingly essential part of effective multi-channel marketing. According to 2018 data from Text Request, people sent 781 billion text messages a day in 2017. That’s an upward trend, as in 2016, it was 634 billion texts and, in 2014, 561 billion.
While today we have so many texting options, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage, and SMS texting, text messages are still a primary means of communication. If you’re in the middle of a workday and can’t call, a text is incredibly convenient. It’s also preferable for many people over talking on the phone. It takes two seconds to prepare a text, they get sent instantaneously, and you can even see that your text got delivered and read.
The world of marketing via text message is still a largely untapped one, which is why it’s no surprise that SMS text marketing is on the rise. By reaching out to your audience through text messages, the backbone of SMS marketing, you can deliver news and deals straight to their phones. That makes it easier than ever to shop.
Of course, like with any form of marketing, it’s all about finding that perfect balance between sending texts at just the right times and not being too overbearing. If you’re considering an SMS marketing campaign for your company in 2020, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, we will dive deep into all things SMS marketing, including what it is, why it matters, and how to do it. With steps, tips, and examples, you’ll be readier than ever to craft your own winning SMS content.
What Is SMS Marketing?
Before we can talk about SMS marketing, we should start with an SMS meaning. After all, today’s younger texters might not know much about what SMS is.
Okay, so what does SMS mean? SMS is an acronym for short message service. It’s a way of sending text messages on mobile devices, across the Internet, and on phones. In the early days of modern text messaging back in the 2000s, SMS was the main method for communicating through text. As it turns out, SMS existed even before then, with SMS messages sent as early as 1992.
The reign of the SMS lasted until 2010 ended. Up to 3.5 billion people sent and received SMS messages every day around then, comprising most mobile subscribers (80 percent). SMS still exists today, but it does have its restrictions. For instance, you cannot exceed 160 characters or your message may get broken up into two or cut off entirely.
The world of SMS marketing can be a lucrative one, as Portio Research wrote in 2014 that this marketing alone was valued at about $100 billion. Imagine what the value of text-based marketing is today.
SMS messages are not the same as the texts you can send from an iPhone or on Facebook Messenger. Those two services as well as Japan’s Line, China’s WeChat, Viber, and WhatsApp business are all Internet Protocol or IP-based messaging.
With that SMS definition out of the way, we can now talk about why you would want to implement these texts into an effective SMS campaign.
Why Is SMS Marketing Important?
- You Can Track Crucial Metrics
- You Can Engage More with Leads and Customers
- You Get to Know Your Audience
- SMS Fits in with Most Other Marketing Campaign Tools
- Shortcodes Make the Lives of Your Customers Easier
- SMS Is All about the Here and Now
Mailed letters can get tossed straight in the trash bin and emails can get flagged as spam, but text messages? Sure, there are filters on those as well, but they do have a higher chance of being seen. Whether the recipient engages with the message is another story and something we’ll discuss later. You can ensure your message is at least seen though, and that’s half the battle.
That’s one of the main reasons we’d say launching an SMS campaign is so important. If you’re still not convinced, that’s okay. Here are several more reasons to incentivize you to consider using SMS in your marketing.
You Can Track Crucial Metrics
Text messages may seem like the unregulated wild west in that you’re just sending out messages with no idea what happens to them. Sure, today’s IP-based messages tell you when a message was delivered and even if it was read and when thanks to read receipts. However, you don’t really get much more in-depth information than that. Well, unless you want to.
With SMS marketing, you can track the metrics that matter most to you and the success of your company. Some metrics that businesses will focus on in their own campaigns are as follows:
- ROI: You can review your return on investment for a single campaign or for several SMS-based campaigns. The more revenue you bring in, the more successful your campaign(s).
- Acquisition cost per subscriber: There’s no handy acronym for this one. With the acquisition cost per subscriber metric, you’re looking at how much money you spent on obtaining a subscriber. Essentially, how much cash did you have to put forth with your SMS marketing before you converted the lead to a customer? Was it more or less than what you usually spend on conversions with other marketing tactics?
- Response rate: A response rate isn’t about who responded to your SMS message, but rather, who did something with it. For instance, if you sent a link, who clicked it? If you texted about a deal, who bought?
- Attrition rate: Not all metrics are positive ones, as the attrition rate proves. This is a measure of how many people unsubscribe from your SMS messages. It’s unavoidable that you’ll lose some subscribers, but they shouldn’t be leaving in droves. If they have, maybe it’s because of the type of content you’re sending. You could also be messaging too often or not often enough. We’ll talk more about the ideal SMS frequency later.
- List size: The opposite of the attrition rate, the list size tells you how many active subscribers you currently have. You want this number to keep growing steadily with time.
- List growth rate: On the note of growth, there’s a way to track that, too. It’s known as the list growth rate. You could track growth as often as weekly or more seldom, like monthly or even annually.
You Can Engage More with Leads and Customers
If there’s one facet of developing a professional relationship with customers that you cannot ignore, that’s engagement. While we’re not saying to stop sending messages to your email list or social media, SMS messaging can be yet another means of engaging with your prospects and customers alike.
Whether you encourage your customers to set up an appointment, check out a deal, or send them an update about an upcoming product or service, SMS messaging like this increases customer engagement.
You Get to Know Your Audience
No, we’re not talking about having a back-and-forth text conversation with each member of your audience. It could happen, but it more than likely won’t. Instead, you can use your SMS marketing campaign as an opportunity to send out surveys. The feedback you can generate from these surveys can prove very valuable.
According to marketing data, as many as 31 percent of your audience might answer your survey. That’s admittedly not a lot, but the ones who do will answer within five minutes of receiving the message. So sure, you have a smaller sample size, but the rate in which you can get feedback is so quick it’s almost instantaneous. What other types of media let you get that near-instant response?
SMS Fits in with Most Other Marketing Campaign Tools
What kinds of tools do you use to drive your current marketing campaigns? No matter what you answer, we’re sure SMS can play nicely with those tools. These texts can support your email and social media campaigns that are already in action. As an example, you could send out a short message encouraging your audience to check out your latest social post or your most recent email newsletter.
By doing so, it’s possible to see a 20-percent, even a 30-percent boost in the open rates of your emails. Who knew?
Shortcodes Make the Lives of Your Customers Easier
We’re big fans of doing anything it takes to improve your customers’ lives. After all, by making it very simple for your lead or customer to proceed with an action, you increase the likelihood of them doing it. That’s why long, complicated opt-in forms that ask for more than a name and email address are frowned upon.
Shortcodes will become your new best friend with your SMS-based marketing. These shortcodes consist of only five digits. When you go to ask your audience to participate in a contest, sign up for alerts, or even opt-in, shortcodes come in handy. These five-digit codes are easy to remember, thus upping the chances of your customers actually joining that contest, getting alerts, or opting in.
SMS Is All about the Here and Now
A lot of marketing tactics can take time before you see results. That’s not true with SMS marketing. Messages get delivered almost instantly, at the very, very longest within 15 minutes. They get opened almost as soon as the user hears their phone chime. Lots of people will open SMS messages, too; up to 97 percent, says Smart Insights.
What other medium offers such instantaneous results? Not email and not quite social media, either.
How to Write Messages for an SMS Campaign
- Formal over Informal
- Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
- Keep It Short
- Don’t Bury the Lead
- Include a CTA
You can see now how SMS marketing can help your company in a myriad of ways. The time has come for you to start writing your own materials for a text blast. You know you only have 160 characters in which to send your message, but looking at a blank slate makes you feel anxious. What do you even say?
Should you take on a more informal, relaxed tone or would that come across wrong? Is it better to stay professional, even if that does feel odd in a text message?
Don’t worry. If you’re new to SMS marketing, there are a lot of questions you’ll have at the beginning. There are also a lot of pitfalls to be aware of. In this section, we’ll tell you the exact tone to take on to get your audience not only opening and reading your texts, but clicking links and shopping as well.
Formal over Informal
A more informal tone may seem appropriate for text messages, but at the end of the day, you have to remember that you’re a business. If you conduct yourself in an un-businesslike matter, you could turn your customers off.
It’s just like when you post on social media. Some people who are on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook for casual purposes won’t take social media very seriously. If you did the same, what would your customers think? There’d be a sharp disconnect between how you act on social media versus in your email marketing.
You’ve worked hard to craft a brand voice, and that voice must come through loud and clear when sending SMS messages. That doesn’t mean being devoid of personality, as that’s going to get your texts deleted immediately. It’s okay to inject some personality into your texts, but here are some dos and don’ts to abide by:
- DO use punctuation, ending each sentence with a period, question mark, exclamation point, etc.
- DON’T abuse punctuation. If you ask a lot of questions, that can become confusing. Ending every sentence with exclamation points can seem pushy and salesy.
- DO keep the caps lock off. It’s okay to emphasize a word, like “hot deals going on NOW!”, but writing a message in all caps scares people.
- DON’T go crazy with emoticons. And yes, with SMS messages, it’s emoticons, not the emojis of today that can follow your facial expressions and mimic them. Remember, you’re a professional company, so the inclusion of an emoticon should be rare.
- DO remember your brand voice with each SMS message you send out.
- DON’T litter your messages with abbreviations or slang. It may seem hip on your part, but misusing an abbreviation can be embarrassing, so don’t do that. Slang also comes across as unprofessional.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
Like with any form of communication, you should always take advantage of chances to personalize with your SMS marketing. For instance, you might say “hi, [name]” and then write your message. You could even personalize through broader demographics, including an audience segment’s pain points, occupation, gender, age, or general location.
Keep It Short
This isn’t just a suggestion, but the rule. Remember, you have 160 characters. While we can’t say how many words you get out of those characters (because it varies based on word length), you cannot exceed 160 characters. Then your message could get broken off right in the middle, and that looks unprofessional. Maybe the user gets two messages, or they just don’t ever see the rest of your message. Either way, it’s a great reason to stick within the character limit.
If you remember the old days of Twitter, back then, you could only write in 140 characters. They’ve increased it since then, but you knew what it was like to be limited. If you used to tweet a lot during those times, it could be engrained in you to compress your message down to a restrictive character limit.
You may not have used Twitter then and are thus finding it hard to write anything meaningful in only 160 characters. We recommend writing out your message in full and then running it through a free website like LetterCount.com. Once you see how many characters you have and how many you are away from 160, you can begin cutting down on your message.
It takes time, but like with anything, the more you practice, the easier it will become. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself crafting short text messages with no difficulty at all.
Don’t Bury the Lead
You may only have 160 characters, but it can be easier to miss the point than you’d assume. In journalism, the lead is the main story, and burying the lead is hiding the main part of the story paragraphs into a news article.
The point of your text should be within the first sentence, maybe the second depending on how you frame it. You don’t want to bury the lead, so keep that in mind when you write.
Include a CTA
Another reason to come right out with what you have to say? You also need a call to action or CTA in your SMS message. Now, it’s better if you can hyperlink this rather than waste characters writing out a lengthy CTA. Not only do you save on character space, but now you have a link for your audience to click.
Again, this makes the customer’s life easier. Imagine if you had a CTA that just said: “for more info, visit our website.” Sure, the customer might do that, but they’d have to search for your website URL and then click it. That’s a lot of effort with potentially very little reward, so why would they do it?
When you present the link upfront, all the reader has to do is click. That’s easy enough, so they should do it no problem.
How to Create a Successful SMS Campaign
- Don’t Use SMS Alone
- Target Your Most Prized Customers
- Use Metrics to Your Advantage
- Know When to Send SMS Messages
- And How Many to Send
- Give Them a Reason to Stay Engaged
- Create a Sense of FOMO
- Don’t Forget Your CTA
- Always Ask for Permission
While writing your SMS messages correctly is crucial, it’s far from the only important component of succeeding with text marketing. Next, we want to talk about several tips and best practices to follow for your own great SMS campaigns.
Don’t Use SMS Alone
We talked about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Text marketing with SMS can be a part of your overall marketing campaign, but it should not comprise the entire thing. It works best when used in conjunction with other forms of marketing, including email and social media marketing, as we explained.
Target Your Most Prized Customers
When trying something new like SMS marketing, you might decide to roll it out to a very select audience. Then, if you get a good enough reception, you’ll use SMS to reach out to all your audience segments.
You want to start with your top customers, the ones who have referred you to others (whether through a referral program or not), offered feedback, opened your emails, responded to communications, and done lots of shopping. They’ve stuck with you for a while, and you sense they’re in it for the long haul.
If they like the style and frequency of your SMS messages, then, as we said, follow suit with the rest of your audience. While you’re only doing SMS marketing selectively, make sure these customers know they’re getting the VIP treatment. That might make them more receptive to this new method of marketing you’re trying.
Use Metrics to Your Advantage
Remember at the beginning of this guide when we talked about SMS marketing metrics to watch? These include ROI, list attrition, list growth, and more. Well, seriously, do make sure you’re generating these metrics and reviewing them at some point. It doesn’t have to be every single week, but definitely monthly.
Without metrics, how else will you know how well your campaign has done? It could be that you’re making a very obvious mistake without even realizing it. Your open or response rates are suffering for that mistake, but you have no idea because you’re not checking metrics. You then go on making the same ol’ very correctable mistake.
Think of how many customers and thus revenue you could lose operating like that. Metrics are your friend, so use them.
Know When to Send SMS Messages
If you want to know when to send an email, you can read our blog and get precise days and times. Do the same kind of rules apply when sending SMS messages?
You betcha, although the rules are a little more loosey-goosey. This 2019 article from SimpleTexting mentions two prime times to focus on. The first is in the morning between 8 a.m. and noon. The second is later at the end of the day from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. You don’t want to text any later into the evening than 9 o’clock.
2017 data from Mobile Marketer found that rush hour is not an ideal time to send messages. That means put the phone down from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. You also might not want to text from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Mobile Marketer also notes that, of any weekday, Monday has the poorest response rate. There are a few reasons for this. One is that over the weekend, people get bombarded with advertisements on the Internet, social media, in email, their physical mailbox, and on TV. They might not want to see even one more ad when the week starts. The other reason is it’s Monday. Enough said.
And How Many to Send
Okay, so you know when to target your audience with SMS messaging, but how many texts should you send? While it can depend, Upland Software says to stick within the range of four or five a month for a while. That’s no more than two texts weekly.
If your audience is biting, then you can send around 10 texts a month, maybe up to 12. You still want to average about a message a day and no more than that.
Their data proves that sending too many texts can lead to a strong drop in opt-ins. For instance, by bombarding your audience with 29 bulk SMS messages over a month, up to 40 percent of them could unsubscribe.
Give Them a Reason to Stay Engaged
If your customers are subscribed to your email newsletter and they already follow you on social media, then why should they opt into your SMS updates as well? Doesn’t that seem like overkill?
It can unless you give them a reason to want to become a part of your SMS list. You want this list to be its own entity. To make it that, try offering exclusives that your customers can only get if they’re receiving SMS updates.
Create a Sense of FOMO
While we talked before about the ideal times to reach out to SMS users, you don’t always have to play exactly by the rules.
SimpleTexting brings up a good point to keep in mind as you sit deliberating when to hit the send button on that text. “The most helpful tip for deciding when to send messages is determining when you’re most interested in your customers taking action.”
If you know you’re having a weekend sale, don’t send out a text on Tuesday afternoon about it. By the time Friday night arrives, most of your audience will have forgotten about that text. Instead, reach out on Friday afternoon.
Doing so this way gets people ready to take action, as SimpleTexting said. It can also instill a sense of FOMO, or fear of missing out. No one wants to feel like they’re going to miss something valuable. If you can make your deals sound urgent enough, then your audience will prioritize buying right away.
Don’t Forget Your CTA
Yes, we just talked about it, but here’s another reminder. We also wanted to discuss the types of CTAs you can add to your SMS messages. These are very short and can be hyperlinked, making them a win-win. Try adding these to your texts today:
- “Buy now,” which is about as straightforward as it gets.
- “Text to vote,” which works when you’re asking your audience to complete a poll for feedback.
- “Text to win,” such as during a contest or giveaway.
- “Click here,” another straightforward CTA that goes perfect with a hyperlink to your online store.
- “Show this text,” which is intended for businesses with bricks and mortar stores. You’re asking the customer to visit the store, show an employee the text, and then get a discount.
Always Ask for Permission
Have you ever received a text from a stranger? It’s creepy, right? Don’t be that stranger. Whether through social media, email, or another form of communication, the customer must say it’s okay for you to send them SMS messages. This may even be a part of your opt-in form.
Examples of SMS Marketing Campaigns
You’ve started to write your own SMS messages and send them as part of a campaign, but you’re still not sure if you’re doing it right. That’s why we thought we’d provide a handful of examples of real SMS campaigns in action. Let them inspire you and drive your way forward into the exciting world of SMS marketing!
Image courtesy of VoiceSage
The cute picture of a cat in space sipping a Starbucks aside, this message has some valuable content. We mentioned before how it’s important that you gain a user’s permission to send SMS messages before you text them.
You should also give them a way to stop these messages. This can happen for any reason anytime. Don’t make the customer jump through hoops if they don’t want your SMS texts. In this example, to unsubscribe from Starbucks’ SMS, the user only has to type STOP. That’s easy enough.
Image courtesy of CleverTap
We like this example of an SMS campaign from AMC Theaters (a movie theater chain) for its Stubs movie members because it’s a great example of offering exclusive content. As we said before, giving your SMS audience something they can’t get through social media or email newsletters is the right way to build your SMS list.
Here, Stubs members can check their balance and get exclusives and rewards through SMS messaging.
Image courtesy of VoiceSage
Earlier in this guide, we talked about how timing is everything with SMS campaigns. This popsicle business proves as much in this example. It’s late May, so you know it’s pretty toasty out. The text message says as much.
The company then lets the customer get a free popsicle if they stop into the store that same day. Sounds awfully refreshing, right?
Creating an SMS Campaign with EngageBay
If you’re looking for a marketing channel for the best SMS marketing, we must point you in the direction of our services at EngageBay. Our range of SMS tools can help you turn your marketing efforts around for the better. Small businesses using SMS may have a boost in productivity and efficiency (61 percent), better campaign tracking and execution (64 percent), improved personalization and targeting (66 percent), and better nurturing and lead management (86 percent).
Want to see some of the above numbers for your own small or medium-sized business? EngageBay is a great place to start. Our SMS campaign services include the following:
- Campaign optimization and tracking: Watch your campaign grow from beginning to end and then all over again. With EngageBay, you choose the metrics that matter most to you and then follow these.
- Create marketing workflows: EngageBay’s drag and drop designer is super easy to use when making your own workflows. These visual marketing workflows make it simpler to streamline your processes and stay on-task.
- Automate SMS: You can’t always be on your phone sending SMS messages, and that’s okay. Here at EngageBay, we’re especially known for our automation, and it’s no different with our SMS services. We will automate your text messages according to a customer’s behavior, good or bad.
- Segment your audience: As we’ve touched on, audience segmentation matters. You don’t want your whole audience to receive an offer on men’s shoes, right? Of course not. EngageBay’s wealth of filters let you target the users you want to text and no one else.
- SMS personalization: The attributes that matter most when personalizing your SMS messages, including location, age, and name are all available with EngageBay.
Did we mention EngageBay offers free SMS marketing? Why not try it today?
SMS marketing is a means of using short message service text messages to convert leads, drive sales, and retain customers. These uncomplicated texts use emoticons instead of emojis and have a character limit, but they’re still the hallmark of any SMS campaign.
If you’re not already reaching out to your audience via text, now is as good a time as ever to begin. With the tips, advice, best practices, and examples provided in this guide, you too can be successful in SMS marketing. Good luck!